13 January 2011

No. 20, Kennet Lane

It's funny how life can change in a moment. All it takes is a decision. Yes, or no. And just like that, nothing's ever the same.

It was supposed to be a day well spent with Siddharth. After three years abroad, he'd finally decided to return home.

"Only for a few days," he muttered. But that never mattered to me. He was here, with me. And I'd enjoy every minute of it.

Giselle Faleiro, I later came to know, had her C.A. class cancelled. Which meant she had a monday morning free.

So after a few phone calls, it seems, she was driving down Kennet Lane, with her driving instructor next to her, looking apprehensive.

"Well, atleast you're better than Mr. Sharma," he muttered, referring to the middle aged student whose place Giselle had taken.

"Thanks," Giselle replied nervously. It hadnt been a compliment.

"So, bhaiyya, when are you going to tell me about your new job?" I asked enthusiastically, as I scanned over the t- shirts.

"Why would you care," he replied, "as long as you're getting your treat? Now pick something, fast!"

"Your manners have sure improved," I retorted. But by then, he'd walked out of the shop. Probably to have a smoke, I thought disdainfully. The habits people pick up when they go abroad...

That's when it happened. I wish now, that I'd picked a T-shirt sooner. Perhaps then we'd have left Kennet Lane sooner.

Instead, I turned around as I heard a loud crash, and frantic yelling outside.

"What happened?" I asked Siddharth as I stepped out of the shop. He pointed a finger silently.

A few yards away, lay a motorcycle with it's front wheel twisted at an odd angle. And next to it was a motionless body, slightly bloodied.

I watched as Giselle sat dazed behind the wheel of the car, shocked by what had just happened. The Santro's front bumper was damaged, and the road began with blood.

As a crowd began gathering, the driving instructor got out of the Santro, swearing to himself in disbelief.

"Madam, get out of the car!" the instructor yelled. "Get out, it is big trouble now!"

"Is he - is he dead?" Giselle asked.

"Yes! He's dead! Now get out!"

The twenty three year old college graduate looked overwhelmed. With her hands gripping the steering wheel, she took a deep breath, trying to make sense of what had happened.

And then, inexplicably, she broke out in tears. From where I was standing, I could see tears stream down her fair cheeks, turning her nose red, and her eyes swollen.

"Poor lady, eh?" a man standing next to us commented, looking slightly sympathetic. "She's in for a lot of trouble."

"Why?' I asked innocently.

"Who'd you think the dead guy is? That's Aravind Balasubramanium. His lawyers will make that girl's life hell."

"And the car's not even registered," another remarked.

That's when I noticed the Santro wasnt from a driving school. The licence plate was for a private car. And from the look on Giselle's face, I knew who it was registered to.

Suddenly, Siddharth, who'd been silent, started forward. Before I could ask, he reached out for the Santro's front door and looked at Giselle.

"Get out," he said, rather bluntly.

"What?" she asked, in between sobs.

He grabbed her hand, and forced her out of the car.

"Get away, now! Go!" he insited. And just like that, he got in, shut the door, and locked the car.

It finally hit me. Why Siddharth was doing it. Springing forward, I banged on the car's window.

"What on earth are you doing?"

Without looking at me, Siddharth gripped the wheel with both his hands.

Just then the sound of sirens grew louder, and the crowd began to part as police constables came forward.

* * *

Over the next three weeks, I repeatedly asked Siddharth why he'd willingly taken the blame. The Faleiro family, stunned as they were by his actions, willingly fabricated a story. Siddharth Mehra, Ms. Giselle Faleiro's 'boyfriend', had borrowed the family car. Aravind Balasubramanium's lawyers willingly bought the story. In any case, rash, reckless young man was a better sell.

Charged with accidental manslaughter and reckless driving, Siddharth was sentenced to one year in prison.

Without a word being said, I saw my brother march into the police van. Our parents were distraught. But I...I was puzzled.

* * *

"Why?" I asked again. I didnt expect an answer. Not after 18 fruitless meetigns.

"Just as I decided to end the talk, though, he spoke. His voice had become soft and weak. Prison could do that to you.

"I didnt want her to cry anymore. Not after I saw her. She...she doesnt look pretty...when her nose turns red!"

He burst out in laughter. Pure, joyful laughter. As though he was recollecting a fond memory of college.

"You're crazy, you know that?" I said bitterly. "What did you think? She'd fall for you if you sacrifised youself? Really, is that how you get a date abroad?"

He stopped laughing, and watched me as I got up. Grabbing my backpack, I kicked off the seat and left. No goodbyes.

Siddharth had never been a romantic. He'd never had a crush, or a mushy love affair. I guess that's why he fell so hard for the girl. Such a waste...

As I stepped out into the hall, the guard motioned to a girl sitting nearby.

"You have 15 minutes, madam," he said.

I looked up, and saw Giselle Faleiro walk past me.

For some reason, I felt suspicious. Why was she here, I thought.

* * *

I later came to know that Giselle's visit was not a one off. She visited him everyday, and the guard assured me that they exchanged letters.

Siddharth never told me anything about it, but it felt as though he looked happier everytime I visited him.

Though his weight dropped and his eyes sunk in, there was a definite cheerfulness in his spirits. He smiled and laughed more. Sometimes I wondered if he any longer realised that he was living in a prison cell.

And tow days after getting released from jail, he told me, almost casually. "I'm going to propose to her."

"Who?" I spluttered.

"Giselle," he replied, before switching on the T.V. For the next hour he watched C.S.I as I sat there, baffled.

Seven days later, I opened the door at 6 P.M. and welcomed Giselle inside. She looked beautiful in a green gown, complete with elegant earrings and make - up.

"Have a seat," I said curtly, before leaving the room. Making up an excuse for finding a bottle of wine, I entered the storage room. The father away I was from the dove - eyed couple, the better.

Rifling through the storage room, I spotted a disused carton that looked oddly out of place. Picking it up, I tore away the plastic covering and pored inside.

There were countless papers - maps, photographs, letters. Assuming it was Siddharth's office work, I was about to leave, when a photo caught my eye. It was a face that looked familiar.

Aravind Balasubramanium.

Dropping the contents of the box onto the floor, I began reading the letters.

"...the job must be completed by June 8th, at the latest. Make sure it is an accident.."

"..Driving School located nearby. Find all the required details..."

"...Monday, between 8 and 8:30 A.M. at Kennet Lane..."

8th June, Kennet Lane.

Siddharth and I were there that day. At 8 in the morning.

Still unable to make sense, I scrambled through the pages. A blown up map of Kennet Lane had markings all over it. Red arrow marks showed the driving school car. In bold letters it was written, MR. SHARMA.

Next to the arrow was the symbol of a TRUCK. And weaving its way through the side of the truck was an arrow with the words TARGET.

I could feel my head reeling in confusion. None of it made any sense. Unless it all pointed to a single possibility.

As though to confirm my theory, I read a letter from John Matthews, Siddharth's boss.

"...upon completing the job successfully, you are assured of 300,000 dollars, as well as the oppurtunity to work with us in future..."

Grabbing the letter, I stormed out of the storage room, and into the dining hall.

Giselle was in tears, and Siddharth sprung up to hug me.

"She accepted!" he whispered in excitement.

"Congratulations," I said curtly.

Then pulling myself away, I looked at him pointedly and asked.

"Why did you do it?"

"Do what?" he asked, his smile fading. He saw the letter in my hand.

"Because I needed the money. And because I didnt want her to take the blame for it. And because....maybe because I'd already fallen in love with her."

"Well, then I hope you're quitting your job," I said, feeling enraged.

"We are," he replied quickly.


"Yes, Giselle and I. It took me 6 months to know, but turns out, we both work for the same boss!"

To receive the Latest Posts in your Inbox, Enter your email address below:

No comments:

Post a Comment